Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- A June 5-7 meeting
of foreign ministers of the 34 democratic nations of the
Americas proved very successful in laying the groundwork
for protecting democracy in the Western Hemisphere, say
U.S. officials Roger Noriega and John Maisto.
Speaking at a June 7 briefing following
the conclusion of the 35th General Assembly of the Organization
of American States (OAS), the U.S. State Department's Noriega
said resolutions hammered out during the meeting will make
the OAS more "pro-active" in heading off crises
in the region before they can "rupture" a nation's
Noriega said the foreign ministers in Fort
Lauderdale expressed a strong consensus in their Declaration
of Florida and in a separate resolution that they wanted
a more proactive OAS to identify where democracies in the
region are weak and to "empower" the OAS secretary-general
to devise new ways and to take action to respond to those
weaknesses before they get out of control.
Noriega, assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs, said at a midnight news conference
held after many hours of crafting exact language in the
Florida declaration and in resolutions passed at the assembly,
that a more proactive OAS could have helped defuse crises
in several countries, including Ecuador and Bolivia, and
earlier in Haiti "where the OAS addressed the issue
The agreements produced in Fort Lauderdale,
said Noriega, state "very clearly" that countries
in the Western Hemisphere "must be governed democratically,
and that governments must be accountable to their people."
He noted that one resolution approved by
the General Assembly supports "effective compliance"
with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which "provides
an impetus for continued development of a vibrant, multilateral
organization that can grow even more strong to advance our
common values and our common needs." That charter,
adopted by the OAS member states in September 2001, calls
for the countries of the hemisphere to promote and defend
Noriega sought to dispel the notion that
the United States wanted more forceful language to be included
in the charter that would impose sanctions on countries
that violate democratic governance. Those who believed the
Bush administration wanted such sanctions had a "mistaken
impression," said Noriega.
"Our emphasis has always been on solidarity
and moving more proactively to head off breaks in the democratic
order," Noriega said, adding: "If you get to a
point where you're sanctioning countries, [then] you've
failed." Avoiding the breakdown in democracy has always
been the central objective of the Democratic Charter, Noriega
The U.S. official hailed the Fort Lauderdale
event as exceeding all expectations.
Noriega said that "by working together
like never before," the OAS is "better prepared,
better capable, better committed to acting proactively in
the defense of democracy, and also in delivering the benefits
of democracy," the latter point being the U.S.-selected
theme of the Fort Lauderdale assembly.
The United States, Noriega said, shares
the OAS secretary-general's "commitment to a building
a more effective, agile organization that, in particular,
will address the challenges to democracy that many of the
countries in our region face." He added that the Declaration
of Florida, along with the resolution approved in Fort Lauderdale
on representative democracy, "makes very clear that
now, more than ever," the OAS needs to be more actively
involved in promoting and defending human rights and democracy
in the Americas.
The Western Hemisphere, he said, is "unique
in [its] consensus in favor of representative democracy
as the only real legitimate form of government" of
the OAS member states, and "unique in its commitment
to govern better, well, justly, and extending to people
access to economic opportunity so that they may have the
tools that they need to build better lives for themselves
and their children and to contribute to the common good."
RESOLUTIONS SEEK TO DELIVER BENEFITS OF
DEMOCRACY, MAISTO SAYS
John Maisto, U.S. permanent representative
to the OAS, elaborated on Noriega's remarks by saying the
participants in Fort Lauderdale followed through on the
theme of the General Assembly -- "Delivering the Benefits
of Democracy" -- by adopting resolutions that were
"aimed at, and focused upon, doing just that."
Maisto said one Chilean-proposed resolution
established several "very important" new ways
of giving the OAS secretary-general the power to promote
and defend democracy, through the application of the Inter-American
That same resolution, said Maisto, establishes
an "early-warning system for democracy" when it
is in danger of failing. The resolution allows the secretary-general
to bring to the OAS Permanent Council's attention those
situations that might lead to action under the organization's
Maisto also said that in the Chilean resolution
and in the Declaration of Florida there are "substantial
references" calling upon civil society groups to express
their views on the fulfillment of the Democratic Charter
and on how the OAS can best support countries in the Western
"So those are very, very substantial,
tangible aspects" resulting from the meeting in Fort
Lauderdale, Maisto said.
The United States, he said, introduced a
resolution about delivering democracy's benefits in order
to advance the region's economic and social development
Maisto concluded that the "very rich
and substantive" resolutions passed at the event regarding
security, human rights, and on other issues promoting democracy
are what make the OAS "so unique." Everything
needed to fulfill the OAS's Democratic Charter is "all
there" in the set of resolutions and in the "Declaration
of Florida" adopted in Fort Lauderdale, Maisto said.
OAS ELECTS NEW ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL
On another issue related to the Fort Lauderdale
assembly, the OAS elected Albert Ramdin, a diplomat from
Suriname, to become the organization's next assistant secretary-general.
Helped by support from countries in the Caribbean region,
of which Suriname is a part, Ramdin won the election by
a vote of 19 to 14, with one abstention, among the 34 OAS
member states at the meeting. The other candidate was former
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal.
Ramdin will work with the OAS's new secretary-general,
Jose Miguel Insulza of Chile, who assumed his post May 26.
Officials from Suriname said Ramdin's election
will increase the influence of Caribbean nations in the
workings of the OAS and in Western Hemisphere affairs.
Washington File Staff Writer